Anna Quindlen was in San Francisco a few weeks ago promoting her new book, “Every Last One”. The man interviewing her commented that he felt the main character was rather pathetic. When I started to read the book I was half expecting a protagonist who was drab, boring, and well, pathetic. What I found was someone I felt could easily have been one of my friends.
Mary Beth Latham, the protagonist, seemed like a typical middle-age woman with children in the first half of the book. She seemed to be trying to figure out how to be a good mother, be supportive to her husband, be a fair boss, be active in the kids school, and be a true friend. She seemed like she was doing exactly what every woman is supposed to be; wonderful to everyone. But we are also able to read between the lines and see she is struggling with self doubts. She appears on the outside to be in control but inside we see her weaknesses and struggling confidence.
Later in the book when things change dramatically in her life, my heart ached for Mary Beth. I could easily recognize the deep and painful sorrow she was experiencing. It was easy to see how and why simple aspects of normal everyday living was so difficult and could paralyze her. I felt a bond of sisterhood that you feel when a friend finds herself in that pit of deep despair and doesn't have the strength to crawl out.
As Mary Beth slowly crept forward, she eventually is able to do routine tasks and these actually become milestones of achievement. I was touched when Mary Beth interacts with a former friend and recognizes the hollowness of her friends words. Mary Beth is able to recognize how her former past self had also been just as naïve and hollow. In that moment, it seems, Mary Beth recognizes she has grown and is now stronger. That was my favorite part of the book. It was as if she had grown to a new level of awareness.
I love Anna Quindlen’s style of writing. I enjoy how she seems to introduce a thought in one paragraph and then in the next couple of paragraphs takes the reader on a little retro journey where the past incidences of the character are woven into the story. In this little journey you learn and understand why the character feels the way she does and is acting this way. I like that manner of storytelling and I found it helping me to become even more engaged.
Unlike the interviewer in San Francisco, I did not find the protagonist, Mary Beth Latham, pathetic at all. I found her to be like most the women I know. She was tattered and torn, but had survived a major episode of deep pain that changed her life forever. I recommend “Every Last One”.